Just got back from France having spent a day or two with a small but perfectly formed team of engineers from RenaultSport.
I could tell you what I was doing but, unfortunately, then I’d have to kill you. Or, more to the point, they would have to kill me.
All I can say right now is that I spent an extremely interesting day howling round Nogaro race track – just outside Toulouse – helping to develop a car that will be launched, hopefully, at Geneva next year to then go on sale in July 2008. And if it happens (it has yet to be fully green lighted) it will blow your mind clean in two.
Here’s a clue: it has two seats, one turbocharger, seven gears and one very simple purpose in life: to be categorically the most exciting road car the company has ever produced.
Almost as revealing as the job itself was the journey there and back, executed in ‘my’ long term Megane R26. It was the first time I’d done a really long, fast stint in the car, and I have to say it turned out to be a breeze. A pleasure, in fact, for all sorts of reasons.
One, the R26 is actually a much nicer companion on smooth French autoroutes than it is on our lumpen UK motorways (isn’t that always the case when you travel in France?).
Two, the cruise control on the R26 works unusually well because you can memorise a speed then flick straight back to it once the traffic clears without having to reset the system manually.
Three, at a steady 90-100mph cruise (which is all I’m prepared to travel at in the daytime in France nowadays) it returned a useful 24-25mpg.
And four, once my new friends at RenaultSport had reset the tyre pressures to 2.0 bar at the front and 2.2 bar at the rear, it was amazing how much sweeter the R26 felt on the drive back. At last it now rides properly again. And it didn’t use a drop of oil after nearly 2000 miles, mostly spent at 4000rpm or above.
Not that long ago a journey like that would have been horrid in a proper hot hatch; it still would in some of the less brilliant performance cars made by Renaultsport’s competitors. Mercifully, I drove the R26 into my parking space at home wanting to do it all again.
Just goes to show how convincingly Renaultsport is dominating the affordable performance market at the moment; and, as I discovered, they’re only going to get better.